A Fresh Perspective: Developing Leaders and Ourselves An Interview with Bob Anderson

Russ Volckmann

Bob Anderson has been a leader in the development of integral approaches to developing leaders.

Q In your writing I see the words “spiritual” and “soul.” Do you use those in the world of business?

A: Yes, but carefully, at the right moment and not in connection with a particular religious perspective. But you’re probably looking at “The Spirit of Leadership” paper, which has a decidedly more spiritual focus than the other papers. And it operates more in the background of the work that I do.

Q: One question I hope we can get to is this whole notion of transformation and movement up the levels. You mentioned the spiral. I’d like to really get into that a bit more.

I have a colleague who I really have a great deal of respect for. He has a very strong alternative perspective on the work of Wilber and others around the notion of transformation. Based on work he’s been doing over the last few years with a lot of people he takes a position that people don’t really change. The change process, the transformational processes, are very long and arduous and, for the most part, most people just simply don’t change. Based on what you’re saying, it sounds like in your own personal experience, that has not been the case or that you have a different take on it than that. I’m curious about how you’re seeing people change in the world of business.

A: I agree and disagree with your colleague. Transformation from one level to another is long and arduous. In business we really shortchange it. Leaders seek to change the culture of the organization and don’t really know that they are making a significant demand on consciousness. This was Kegan’s point in In Over Our Heads. Leaders might be able to conceptualize the kind of organization they need in quadrant four (LR). They get it on the conceptual line, but are not able to embody, in any way, the leadership behavior it takes to create that culture. Leaders and change consultants underestimate how arduous that process really is.

Q: Especially in quadrant one (Upper Left)?


A:  Yes. I think personal change is demanding and we have treated it too cavalierly in the design of our corporate change efforts. By the same token I do think transformation of a level is possible. But this must happen on more than the conceptual line.

I tend to use Kegan’s model, because I think a leader’s ability to embody their vision has more to do with what I would call the ‘self’ line – how self-awareness is organized. That’s the way Kegan talks about it. Most people are in what Kegan called the third level of awareness. This equates to Beck’s red, blue and somewhat into the orange level of the spiral.

At Kegan’s level three, self-identity is held by the surround. I’m worthwhile if I’m flawlessly successful. I’m worthwhile if I’m liked by other people. I’m worthwhile if I am better than…At this level people have an identity that is made up by external validation. This can shift into Kegan’s level four (which equates to move orange and beyond), where identity is more organized around one’s own vision, values and principals—Who I am, what I care about and what matters.

This level 3 to 4 shift is what Robert Fritz is describing as moving from the Reactive to the Creative Orientation. He is really describing two different operating systems: one that operates more at level three and one that operates more at level four. Psychologists have talked about this as external and internal locus of control.

Much of the work that I have watched be very transformative for people involves helping them that take a perspective on the reactive operating system (level 3 identity).

I was just on the phone before you called with a very senior health care executive who got feedback on our 360? profile. His own scores and those of others indicated issues of belonging. In other words, he is playing it too safe. He goes along to get along. His need for acceptance is interrupting his creative use of authenticity and power.

Q: This is the Leadership Circle Profile?

A: Correct. What I’ve done is create a 360? instrument that gives feedback on both of the two operating systems. That is, to what extend do people play out of the reactive operating system—externalized identity/ locus of control? To what extent are they operating out to the Creative operating system—internally out of their own sense of vision/values? In that Creative operating system, what competencies do they have access to?

Robert Kegan said that most of the leadership literature is being written to level four. Consultants and theorists are making a level four demand on the consciousness of leaders by describing leadership this way. All of the key leadership competencies are level four behaviors in his hierarchy. So, what I have done is measure how you score at level three and at level four as seen by yourself and others. The Leadership Circle profile displays the patterns of interaction between the predominate behaviors run by each level. For example, this particular executive was scoring high on Belonging and his scores for Courageously Authenticity, Focusing on Results and Pursuing Vision were relatively low. That was the pattern in his data.

With this information, transformation can be facilitated with practices that help managers gain awareness of what they are telling themselves that holds this pattern in place. Using our heath care executive, for example, I was helping him learn how he consistently “makes up” that he always has to be nice or go for consensus. When he can take a perspective on this belief/thinking pattern, feel the amount of emotional risk that is associated with it and simultaneously realize that it is an imposter, then he can start to detach from it. As Kegan says, this ability to make an object of reflection of something to which the person was subject is the process of transformation. It is the same as the Buddhist “not me-not me.”

We’ve got some very interesting data that suggests that when you can shift this kind of Complying energy, like Belonging, to real empowered Relating, you not only get the gift of good relationships—which was your natural gift to begin with—you get your power, too. We can see this in the data. It’s amazing to see. We’re getting some very interesting data that is beyond the complexity of what I can talk about here. But, in short, if you take Relating as a variable (strong relationship skills) and partial out all the Complying (risk averse, overly nice behavior), you’re left with a variable that I will call Empowered Relating. That variable looks like an Achieving variable. It looks like power, creative power. Thus, we have got some very interesting data that says transformation is possible. Some of these variables (where we partial the Reactive behavior out of the Creative Variable) measure beyond the boundaries of all the other variables as drawn by the computer with multidimensional scaling. In other words they appear to be up the spiral—beyond level 4.

Thus, I would say transformation is quite possible. And it’s hard, courageous, gutty, gritty, long-term work. It’s life work, but we do have evidence that people can make progress, and make progress relatively quickly if they practice.

Q: Kegan has said that moving from one stage to another is typically going to take about five years.

A: Yes, exactly.

Q: Are you suggesting that there are certain practices that one can follow to accelerate this? I would assume meditation would be one of those and probably some of Fritz’s work with creative tension. You mentioned an executive that you were working with recently that was shifting into some new patterns. Have you got an example of somebody you’ve worked with where you have seen significant, sustained shift from one level to another?

A: Yes, actually. I worked with a senior management team of a small business, about 150 employees, 4 or 5 plants, mostly in the United States with one overseas manufacturing plant. It was a 15 million dollar operation. When I came in, the CEO said to me, “We’ve hit a level of sales and have been unable to push through that ceiling. We’re not growing; we want to grow the business. The last time I hit a ceiling like this I just fired everybody and started over. Do you think there’s a better way?”

I said, “Well, I don’t know your people, but I sure hope so.”

He said, “It was too painful, I don’t want to have to do that again.”

So we got started. I interviewed his key managers and did one of our culture assessments. The results came out more Reactive than Creative—more controlling and a little bit overly conservative. Their culture was primarily bureaucratic and autocratic. The interview data indicated that the senior executives hated each other. They could not stand working together. They actually used demonic imagery in some cases to describe each other.

I did some work with them: coaching work, a lot of self-awareness work, and team development in terms of their ability to really talk honestly and openly with each other. A year of that and we repeated the assessments. They took 25 points off their Reactive scores, the bottom half of our circle, and they put 25 points on the top half of the circle—The Creative Competencies. Now that’s a fairly significant shift.

Now here’s the anecdotal data—it came in lots of different ways—but a couple of examples. The last meeting I had with the CFO went something like this.

“We just decided not to acquire a new business,” the CFO said. “It was a very difficult conversation, because the CEO wants to grow the business so he can retire and hand it off to his family or sell it. There is also some ego investment involved: ‘Look how big I grew this business!’ So it was a very delicate conversation with the CEO. But the numbers from my perspective just weren’t there. We had that conversation as a team. It took us three days and we had fun. A year ago, it would have taken us two months. We might have made the same decision, but it would have been painful. That’s the difference.”

Shortly after this conversation we had the annual meeting with the supervisors of their plants. I stood at the bar just listening to the conversations. I heard things like, “What’s going on at corporate? It’s so different now. When we call, our questions get answered. When we make suggestions, they get listened to—maybe they don’t agree—but they get listened to instead of shoved back in our face. We ask for support and we get it. What’s going on? This place is really different.”

Now mind you, nobody knew this change work was going on at the top of the organization. The only other people that knew anything was happening were the secretaries who were scheduling the meetings. There was no training cascading through the organization. There were no organizational announcements. No new vision statements hung on the wall. We worked quietly with the top team and they had a shift that was measured by assessment from level three to level four. People in the organization were describing the cultural shift while not even knowing that there was one underway.

Q: So individuals within the team presumably made that shift in order for the team as a whole to be able to do that.

A: Exactly.

Well, we started this part of our conversation with the question is change possible? For me the answer is yes and it’s pretty arduous. People want to shift quadrant four, but not quadrant one. However, if we don’t shift in quadrant one, quadrant four goes back to where it was.

Q: In the applications of integral theory that I’ve been looking at, the primary focus has been on quadrant one and to some extent, quadrant two, even to a neglect of the implications for quadrants three and four. The person I interviewed for the last issue of Integral Leadership Review (December 2004) was James O’ Toole. He published a chapter in the Future of Leadership that Warren Bennis and others edited. He focused on quadrant four variables that create the context in which leadership can effectively emerge or that effect how leadership can be effective in companies. It was a fairly standard list of the kinds of systems and approaches that you’d expect to find in quadrant four and in an enlightened organization around communication, information sharing, selection, retention, compensation, those kinds of things. But in the integral literature, I’m not finding much attention to the lower quadrants. Am I missing something?

A: You’re probably right on the money. Part of what has been refreshing for those of us bleeding hearts that the integral framework really creates legitimacy for quadrant one work in organizations. Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far. In addition, a lot of us, who are in this kind of work, have a passion for one quadrant over the other.

I have colleagues that are passionate about quadrant four work and that makes for good collaboration. When I am consulting to an organization that really wants to create a systemic change effort, not just a team building effort, but a real large systems change, I personally have to collaborate with a good quadrant four consultant. Systemic change has not been my area of learning and passion. By the same token, when I do collaborate the consultants leading the system design process consistently report that the design teams achieved better results because of the quadrant one work that was done along the way.

Even that being said, the senior team that is sponsoring a systemic shift may not know that they have the most quadrant one work to do. The senior team understands the need for the shift—the cultural shift, the behavioral shift and systemic redesign work that needs to be done. They often don’t get that they have as much changing to do at quadrant one as everybody else. Because they can conceptualize the shift and sponsor it, they think they have made the shift and they haven’t. They mistake the conceptual line for the self line.

Observing this is what got me into using 360? assessments and eventually to developing my own—one that was designed around integral theory. One of the problems that senior leaders face is that nobody’s willing to tell them that they need to do most of the changing. Once they sponsor the change they need to start working in quadrant one. If they do not, when the change actually starts to work down—as radical change starts to happen—if the senior team hasn’t learned a new way of leading, if they’re still stuck in more reactive, controlling ways of leading, the change effort just grinds to a halt.

Q: Do you anticipate publishing anything in the foreseeable future about the data that you’ve been working with?

A: Yes, I’m actually just starting to conceptualize a book about that. It is very interesting data. Most of it is consistent with the body of leadership research and some of it is new and very interesting, especially the data around what I call ‘Near Enemies’.

Q: Near Enemies?

A: Yes, for example, we measure two different kinds of relationship orientation. One we call Complying, which is this Reactive way of being in relationship. It is a Kegan Level Three variable. On Beck’s spiral it probably would be green and lower, but it would not be orange, might be blue…

Q: So, it’s on the cool side.

A: Yes. The second variable in this example of the near enemy concept is Relating. Relating is a Kegan level 4 variable and is associated with Green and above. The Near Enemy of Relating is Complying. Complying looks like Relating. It smells like Relating. It looks like a behavior strategy that is on my side, but really, it is an enemy in your own camp. It is the enemy in your own camp that you need to be most aware of.

As Complying shifts to Relating something very interesting happens. The leader gets more effective relationships, which is highly correlated to effectiveness, but they also get creative power. They become more authentic, courageous, visionary, strategic and results oriented. In other words they get their power (which is in the shadow of complying). That is the notion of the Near Enemy concept. When you deal with the Near Enemy, you get your strength in a more effective version (in this example relationship competency) and you get the gold in your shadow (in this case, creative power).

The Near Enemy data on Control is even more interesting. When we ask leaders why they use high control tactics or autocratic leadership styles, we find the best of intentions. They say they do it to get results. They get things done. They want to make things happen. They ask, “If I didn’t do it, who else would?” And yet, our data says this style is inversely correlated with results. Furthermore, when you partial Controlling (a reactive, Kegan level 3, or red/orange variable) out of Achieving (a Creative Level 4, Orange and beyond variable), it becomes even more powerful than Achieving in terms of the way it measures. The leader making this shift gets strength in a higher version—the ability to get results—but also becomes a people person though inspiring and involving people as apposed to controlling them.

I am very interested in writing about this transformation from a levels perspective, from an integral perspective. Most of the competency research has not been done from an integral perspective. Competencies are all pitched at Level 4. It, therefore, does not take into account how these same competencies are contained at Level 3. Since we measure these competencies at both levels, we have a new slant on the research. I am interested to learn more about how the whole pattern of a leader’s competency data shifts when the center of gravity of the self line shifts to Level 4.

For additional information and to read the complete interview click here.